Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden

If you follow me on social media, you'll know that in addition to old houses and castles I also love book shops and libraries. Last week I finally got around to visiting somewhere I'd always wanted to go, Gladstone's Library in Hawarden, with two of my friends from Novelistas Ink: Valerie-Anne Baglietto and Sophie Claire.

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden

It's a beautiful old building, built in 1906 to replace the original one, and is Grade 1 listed. We arranged our trip on the pretext of calling it a business meeting but although there was lots of talking, and much coffee and cake consumed in the cafe, there wasn't a lot of 'business' discussion!

A statue of Gladstone in the grounds

I'm sorry that my photos are a little bit blurry. The library is a place of work and understandably expects visitors to maintain complete silence. I became a little self-conscious about using my camera, which emits a cheerful electronic trill every time I take a picture, so I switched to using my mobile instead!

The Reading Rooms

Gladstone's Library is named after William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), who served four terms as Prime Minster - more than any other person. He was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, finally retiring at the age of 84. He had a large personal library and was keen to make it accessible to others not so fortunate, donating over 32,000 of his own books - mainly theology and history.

The Reading Rooms

Legend has it that he carried the books between the family home at Hawarden Castle and the library himself, with only the aid of a wheelbarrow, his valet and one of his daughters.

Some of Gladstone's personal possessions

The library is now home to more than 150,000 books, journals and pamphlets. Some are over 400 years old, some are first editions. Some still contain Gladstone's personal notes written in the margins!

The library is also a residential library and has 26 bedrooms available for anyone wanting to 'sleep' with the books! Anyone can visit but only residents and 'readers' can use the library (it is free to join). But there are short tours lasting about ten minutes, known as 'Glimpses', three times a day. The library also hosts various programmes and events, including their annual festival, Gladfest. There is a cafe, Food For Thought, open seven days a week, and conference rooms available for hire.

I think I feel another Novelistas' 'business meeting' coming on ...

Left to Right: Valerie-Anne Baglietto
Louise Marley and Sophie Claire
(in the cafe!)


Photo Credits:

All photos were taken by me, except the group shot © Sophie Claire.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Italian Blog (or, what I did on my holidays...)

You may have noticed I've been a little bit quiet. This is because I've spent the past week in Venice! I did go with my usual intention of keeping up with emails, social media and the rest. I even packed my work-in-progress - but was hampered by packing four chargers and not a single adapter. #EpicFail. And you know how I love my Kindle! As it turned out, we were too busy sight-seeing to miss our phones and Kindles.

Basilica di San Marco
We got lost three times on the first day, and twice on the second day - and then we lost our map. But we soon realised this was the best way to 'discover' the real Venice, and we stumbled upon several fabulous churches (containing the most incredible art), along with museums, exhibitions and palaces. So we spent the rest of the holiday happily getting lost!

Lots of shopping!
We had a lovely hotel just two minutes walk from St Mark's Square. It meant we could get up early and explore the city before it grew too busy.

The Grand Canal
 I didn't fancy a ride in a gondola but a water taxi was provided as part of our transfer to and from the hotel, and that was fun - although every time we went under one of those little Venetian bridges I was reminded of the video for Madonna's Like a Virgin and instinctively ducked. 

The tickets to get into these places
were works of art in themselves!

The Basilica di San Marco

My favourite place was the Basilica di San Marco, because of the fabulous gold mosaic ceilings. The original basilica was built to house the relics (bones!) of St Mark the Evangelist - stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants with the help of two Greek monks (there's definitely a story there!). The mosaic over the entrance shows St Mark being welcomed to the city. The present building dates from about 1093 but has been greatly embellished and those gold mosaic ceilings cover an area of more than 43,000 feet.

Front Entrance
The Basilica is free to enter (hence the huge queues; once inside, you shuffle around in one long crocodile) but you can access various extras such as the museum, the treasury and the Pala d'Oro for a few Euros.  Entry to the museum also gains you entry to the gallery, where you can see the ceiling at close range, the famous bronze horses (the ones outside are replicas), as well as the outside balcony with views of St Mark's Square.

Palazzo Ducale

The Palace was the residence of the Doge - a kind of chief magistrate. The Doge's Palace was in the most part constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries, and some of the greatest painters of the 16th century were responsible for the beautiful ceilings that show scenes from Venetian history.

The Doge's Palace is on the left
(photo taken from the Basilica balcony)
The Doge's crowning took place at the Scala dei Giganti (The Giant's Stairway), so called because of the huge statues of Mars and Neptune at the top - symbolising the power of Venice over land and sea.

Scala dei Giganti
(The Giant's Stairway)
Fabulous ceilings -
you'll spend a lot of time looking up!

The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs was built in 1600 to connect the prison with the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace with two parallel corridors. While beautiful on the outside, it is fairly grim on the inside! The most famous resident of the prison was Giacomo Casanova, who managed to escape through the roof, re-enter the Palace and then walk out through the porta della carta (the entrance to the court). The bridge was given its name due to the story that prisoners would sigh as they crossed from the palace to the prison and caught sight of the outside world through the windows.

The Bridge of Sighs
Not so pretty on the inside!

The Campanile di San Marco

If you get the chance, you must view Venice from the top of this famous bell tower. Although originally built in the 10th century, it suddenly collapsed in on itself in 1902. It has since been rebuilt using as much of the original stone as possible. The queue is relatively short compared with other sites, there is a lift to the top and you can see the whole of Venice stretched out beneath you.

The Campanile di San Marco
(The Bell Tower of St Mark)
The bells, the bells!
View from the top

Teatro La Fenice di Venice

We stumbled upon this theatre by accident. We couldn't arrange to see a performance, as there weren't any during our visit, but for a few euros you can pay to tour the interior, which is pretty spectacular - as you can see from the photo below. The original building (which burned to the ground in 1996) was founded in 1792 and staged a number of world premieres, including operas by Rossini and Bellini. Maria Callas debuted here in 1947 and there are several souvenirs from her performances on display.

Teatro La Fenice di Venice
(The Phoenix Theatre of Venice)
Ca' d'Oro

This is one of the palaces on the Grand Canal. The name means 'golden house', because it was once decorated with gold leaf. It's currently home to Baron Franchelli's art collection. There were lots of famous paintings (van Dyck, Bellini, Titian, etc) but they all went over my head a bit. Because I love old buildings, it was the palace itself which fascinated me!

Ca' d'Oro
(Photo taken from the Grand Canal)
The interior courtyard
Amazing tiled floors
Santa Maria della Salute

This minor basilica is on the other side of the Grand Canal, almost opposite St Mark's Square. It was built in 1630 to give thanks for deliverance from an outbreak of the Black Death in 1603. Most of the objects of art within the church reference the plague. It's an iconic part of the Venetian skyline and has been painted by many artists, including Turner and Canaletto.

Santa Maria della Salute
Iconic view!
Santa Maria della Salute


Related Posts:

A Writer's Holiday - in which I visit Tuscany, Florence and Luca
When in Paris ... 

Never miss a post! See that little box in the left-hand column, near the top, that says 'Follow by Email'? If you add your email address, you'll receive my latest blog post almost as soon as I've written it.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Spring Update

I haven't updated this blog since January. What's my excuse? Mostly I've been hard at work on my new book, which has not left much time for anything else.

A good chunk of my blog posts are about places I've visited (I often use them as inspiration for locations in my books). It's not quite so much fun to visit a ruined castle in the middle of winter - atmospheric, but very cold!

Now Spring is here, I've been revisiting some old favourites. So, no new blog posts - but plenty of photos!

Bodnant Garden

Bodnant is at its best during spring, when the azaleas are out, and I've visited twice this month.

Gwydir Castle

I've already blogged about Gwydir Castle too, but here are some photos from my most recent visit. It was a bit of a gloomy day but we did receive a warm welcome from the residents!


Now I have a new smart phone, I'm more active on Instagram. You can see more of the places I've visited, as well as the books I'm reading, (and gratuitous photos of cake!) here.

Book Blog

And if you want to know what books I'm reading, check out my Instagram feed and my book blog.

Guest Blog Post

If you're a writer yourself, you might be interested in this guest post I wrote for Women Writers about creating characters:

New Book

And finally, the reason I'm not quite so active on my blog and social media, is that I'm hard at work on my new book. Trust Me I Lie has turned about to be just the first in a new series about Milla and Ben.

And I've made the mistake of entering into a word race with my friends Trisha Ashley and Juliet Greenwood. The last one to finish writing their new book buys the others a cream tea! And at the moment I'm the one that's losing!

So I'll see you later!

Never miss a post! See that little box in the left-hand column, near the top, that says 'Follow by Email'? If you add your email address, you'll receive my latest blog post almost as soon as I've written it.

Monday, 9 January 2017

When in Paris ...

In which I visit Paris - and still end up in a bookstore and a graveyard... 

I try not to talk about personal stuff on social media, so let's just say 2016 was not a great year for us and leave it at that. By the time it got to December, my husband and I decided we needed a holiday! Holiday destinations in December are pretty limited, but then we had the great idea to combine a visit to Disneyland Paris, where we'd taken the kids when they were (much!) younger, with a trip to the city of Paris.

My daughter and me - halfway up the Eiffel Tower!

We held a family conference about the 'must see' places to visit. We all voted for the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to go to the Louvre. I was not so bothered about the inside, I just wanted to see the glass pyramid that always features in all the movies. Or as my husband put it, 'You want to visit the Louvre because you once saw it in a Tom Hanks film?' My other vote was for Shakespeare and Company, a very famous bookshop close to Notre-Dame. Fortunately, because it was close to Notre-Dame, and my daughter also cast her vote for it, it was added to the list. My daughter also had a hankering to visit the Catacombs - basically one giant, underground ossuary, but none of us quite fancied being so close to real, er, 'live' bones, so we compromised by visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 as part of the Exposition Universelle, to celebrate 100 years of the Revolution. You can buy tickets in advance, online, or just queue up on the day, which is what we did. It was the middle of December and we only waited in line for about 20 minutes. There is also a very good app for smart phones, which acts like a guidebook with lots of facts. We bought tickets for the 1st and 2nd floor, which was cheaper than going right to the top and quite high enough for us! And we took the glass elevator rather than the stairs - there is one in each pillar. Even though it was a misty day, there were great views of Paris. Definitely recommended!

You don't need me to tell you
what this is, do you?

I'd first visited Paris on a school trip, so one of the places I wanted to see again was Notre-Dame. We didn't go inside, just admired it from the outside - it's pretty impressive, as you can see! It's a gothic cathedral dating back to the 12th century, and was one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses (arched exterior supports) after cracks appeared in the walls.

Notre-Dame, cunningly angled to cut
the tourists' heads off

Shakespeare and Company is a quirky bookshop I'd first come across on Pinterest. It's an English language bookstore on the banks of the River Seine, just around the corner from Notre-Dame. Built in the early 1600s, the building was originally a monastery but opened as a bookstore in 1951 by an American, George Whitman. In 1964, the name was changed to Shakespeare and Company on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, and also in honour of another bookseller George admired,  Sylvia Beach, who had opened the first Shakespeare and Company in 1919.

(And my husband, wondering why I'm blocking the door)

I could have spent all day in that bookshop! There are several little rooms, all leading off each other, overflowing bookshelves from floor to ceiling, exposed brickwork and wooden beams, and signs saying things like 'You can find Agatha Christie under the stairs'. But you'll have to take my word for that because, understandably, they don't allow photos of the interior and my memory's not great! I bought my son a copy of The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and my daughter a copy of In Search of Lost Time (vol 6) by Marcel Proust, because she's mad on him (more of that later!). Each book was stamped with the bookshop logo and came with a bookmark. What did I buy for me? I managed to restrain myself and settled for one of their tote bags (although I don't think George would have been impressed!).


We had lunch and then headed to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where my daughter was keen to visit Marcel Proust's grave. The cemetery is absolutely huge, like a mini village, complete with little cobbled streets lined with trees. It is essential to have a map, which can be bought at one of the gates or surrounding kiosks. Unfortunately, when we arrived there were none available, probably because it was the middle of December! We got around this by using a smartphone to photograph one of the large maps by the entrance, along with a key to all the 'famous' graves. If you do this, make sure your photograph is not blurred before you set off or you will get lost!

Marcel Proust's grave

The cemetery is named after Pere Francois de la Chaise (1624-1709) (the confessor to King Louis XIV), who lived in a house on the site. The property was bought by the city in 1804 and the grounds turned into a cemetery. Napoleon, who had been declared Emperor three days previously, declared that 'Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion'. Unfortunately, because the cemetery was situated so far from the city and had not been blessed by the church, it attracted few funerals. To encourage the purchase of burial plots, the administrators arranged for the remains of Jean de La Fontaine and Moliere to be re-interred here; suddenly everyone wanted to be buried alongside the rich and famous. Today there are over 1 million bodies buried, as well as very moving memorials to the victims of the Holocaust and both world wars.

One of the 'streets' at
the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

But the cemetery is mostly famous for being 'home' to celebrities, including Honore de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Frederic Chopin, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Marceau, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Marcel Proust, Simone Signoret, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde. It is sweet to see the fresh flowers and little notes that their fans have left at some of the graves. Not so sweet to see how some of the graves have been scrawled over with lipstick and felt tip pen. Oscar Wilde's grave has now been encased in glass - so his 'fans' write on that instead. Jim Morrison's grave has been so vandalised over the years, apparently it now has its own guard.

Oscar Wilde's grave

Most of the tombs are built like mini-mausoleums, with a door at the front, although the bodies (usually more than one) are buried beneath the ground. The idea is the mourner would go inside to pray and leave flowers on one of the shelves inside. The cemetery is definitely worth a visit, not just to see the famous graves. But if you do go, allow a good couple of hours and make sure you have a map!

Time to go home ...


The Eiffel Tower (official website)
Notre-Dame (official website)
Shakespeare and Company (bookshop) (official website)

Related Posts:

A Writer's Holiday (in which I visit Italy)
A Grave Obsession (why I love churchyards)
More Ramblings About Tombs (in which I visit an ancient Welsh burial chamber)

Never miss a post! See that little box in the left-hand column, near the top, that says 'Follow by Email'? If you add your email address, you'll receive my latest blog post almost as soon as I've written it.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year!

How do you feel about New Year's resolutions? Do you ever make any? Do you stick to them?

When I was a teenager, I would make three resolutions every year without fail. And every year they would be pretty much the same: (1) Lose weight, (2) Save money, (3) Write a book. Every year I failed to keep them but at least it saved having to think up three more. And if that sounds familiar, I gave the same trait to Marina in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - my first novel, published fifteen years ago this month.

I think it's about time my resolutions had an update! So, what is it that I'd really like to change if I could?

Well, I'd like to

Be more organised ...

As you may have noticed, I'm not the world's most organised person - and then last year my phone died, taking all my contacts and my calendar with it! Disaster! But I've learnt from this! I have a new phone - and I've now got back ups! All my contacts have been updated in a proper address book, everyone's birthday is listed in a birthday book and I have a back-up diary. So, fingers crossed!

Write more ... 

I'm a professional writer, that's what I do all day, right? Yes - along with critiques, reviews, blog posts, guest blog posts and social media for both myself and other authors, somehow the actual book writing is getting very squeezed. JK Rowling talks about how important it is to 'guard' precious writing time, and she is right. What can I do to fix it?

My friend, Trisha Ashley, belongs to a writers' group called The 500 Club with Elizabeth Gill and Leah Fleming. Every day they agree to email each other once they've written 500 words. Isn't that a great idea? It's certainly easier to achieve than 1000 words, and the words soon mount up. I'm going to give it a go - and record my progress in my back-up diary!

Try to leave the house occasionally ...

It is easy when you're self-employed to forget to have any 'me' time. A couple of years back I was working from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm, seven days a week, and all I achieved was to make myself ill. Besides, if I don't meet new people, visit new places and have new experiences, how will I find anything new to write about?

Yes, that's me,
halfway up the Eiffel Tower with my daughter

So there you have it. Those are my resolutions for this year, how about you?